Recent law suits filed by the U. S. Justice Department and the state attorney general have made it clear that the Erie County Holding Center needs greater oversight and transparency in its treatment of prisoners. Advocates, community members and even deputies from the Holding Center, itself, have expressed disappointment at the response to allegations of prisoner mistreatment. The stonewalling of current investigations has undermined the community’s trust in the ability of public officials to act in the best interest of prisoners.

In order to restore confidence, we need a means by which the community can see into our prisons, judge the practices we have engaged in there and call for the right kind of change as necessary. A community advisory board would ensure that workers, inmates and our community at large can all say that our justice system truly promotes justice.

Erie County Legislator Christina Bove has introduced a local law establishing such a board. A closer examination, however, reveals that the board proposed by Bove gives no direct representation to members of the community. Instead, all members would be appointed by county officials with no clear inclusion of prisoner advocates, medical practitioners or those who work in the prison.

The Erie County Prisoner’s Rights Coalition has put forward an alternate proposal for a board composed of community leaders who would work with the county to oversee our prisons with some limited investigatory powers. It’s this kind of real oversight that is now necessary. Prisoner advocates, faith-based leaders and local media personalities have all called the county’s handling of the situation a blemish on our community. It’s time for the people of Erie County to take the lead in changing its course.

Any community advisory board must be able to freely represent the public good and not be just another opportunity for county officials to trade favors and hand out political appointments in the name of public service.

Bove has argued that community involvement would only stall the implementation of an advisory board, despite the fact that her local law would not take effect until January. Although the situation at the Holding Center is obviously time sensitive, we cannot afford to lose the opportunity to open the process for real community involvement for fear that another bureaucratic layer without teeth or independence would only allow for the circumstances at the Holding Center to persist.

As this debate moves forward, it’s critical to the future of Erie County’s prison system that the voices of our community are heard.

A public hearing on the local law has been scheduled for 5 p. m. May 18 in Old County Hall, 95 Franklin St., fourth floor, legislative chambers.

The Rev. Eugene Pierce was deputy superintendent of the Alden Correctional Facility from 1984 to 1997.


 


Comments

Chuck Culhane
03/03/2012 18:33

This blog, I realize, has not been used in awhile. This is less a comment and more an update. The Coalition itself is still viable and active, but much of the work and activities around the jail (and prison) issues is coordinated by Prisoners are People, Too, with Karima Amin at the helm. Karima's initial post, and Reverend Pierce's, are both informative and give a good picture of how things are, or were, a couple of years ago.

The federal government's suit against the Holding Center was settled in August of 2011, prematurely it seems. There were suicides in September, October, and December of 2011, and several other attempts. Erie County's prisoner-suicide rate is five (5) times the national average. The Sheriff, Tim Howard, is basically in denial that conditions at the jail are a contributing factor, conditions that both the state Commission of Correction and federal civil rights prosecutors have deemed to be substandard and in violation of the constitutional rights of detainees. One mother of a recent "suicide" says she is convinced beyond any doubt that her son was killed and did not take his own life.

There's been some good developments in the work we're involved in, and that information is available on the PRP2 website. One of Rev. Pierce's initiatives -- the re-establishment of a Community Corrections Advisory Board -- was successful although the composition of the Board was/is under-represented by "community" people. It could have been much worse; we fought for a compromise and won, and with Collins out (County Exec.) and legislator Bove replaced on the Public Safety Committee by Tim Hoages (sp?, there is now room for making some real changes. The county legislature is now considering creation of an independent Ombudsman's office or person to receive and investigate complaints from prisoners and/or their families.
We continue to stand in front of the Holding Center on Wednesday afternoons between 5 and 6 pm. Join us! Stay tuned.

Chuck Culhane

Reply
05/30/2012 04:53

THX for info

Reply
07/15/2012 13:42

Thanks for details

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